Pictured here are JAG students from one of Dianne Johnson’s classes at Ville Platte High School. From left to right are Alex King, Isaiah Gallow, Marques Johnson, Gwantez Thomas, YCP Recruiter Shawn Parker, Allaya Durgin, Kendall Jackson, John Bordelon, and JAG Specialist Dianna Freeman-Johnson. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)

JAG meets YCP

Youth Challenge Program recruiter speaks to Dianna Johnson’s JAG students at Ville Platte High School

Students in Dianna Freeman-Johnson’s Jobs for America’s Graduates program at Ville Platte High School were treated to a presentation Thursday morning from Shawn Parker, who is a recruiter for the Youth Challenge Program.
Parker told the students that YCP believes “if we can change the life of one student, then we have made a difference.”
YCP is a volunteer program that is designed for students from ages 16 to 18 who are considered at risk youth. According to Parker, at risk youth are any youth who are “having problems at any point in their life whether it’s at home, at school, with friends, with the law, or anything that is troubling them.”
Parker told the students that the program is free for students because it is funded by the federal and state governments and is administered by the Louisiana National Guard. “We do run quasi-military which means we are like the military, but we are not a boot camp,” she said. “We do operate like the military does with the structure and discipline.”
“We are an alternative education program,” she continued. “When you come to us, you will work on your education. You just don’t come to us for the military aspect of it. You come to us to work on your education.”
Students who attend YCP do so at one of three locations called camps. These camps are Camp Minden near Shreveport, Camp Beauregard in Pineville, and Gillis Long in Carville near Baton Rouge. “Louisiana was the first state to get three Youth Challenge Program camps,” Parker stated. “Georgia and California now have three as well.”
Each camp has two classes a year for a total of six classes statewide. The classes, according to Parker, are divided into two programs. “It operates in a five-and-a-half month residential phase where you live in one of the three camps and then a 12-month post residential phase,” Parker said.
“In the five month residential phase,” continued Parker, “you live in one of our three camps. You’ll go to school, you’ll do some service to the community, and you’ll do just kind of everyday normal life. We just operate like military style.”
Students during this phase are housed in barrack style housing with bunk beds and are supervised 24-hours a day seven days a week. “Males and females are separated throughout the entire time of the camp,” Parker expressed. “We do not have technology, so there are no cell phones. We do have computers in the computer lab, and we do have TVs in the barracks. We just can’t watch them whenever we feel like it.”
She then went on to explain about the 12-month post residential phase. “That’s where you graduate and leave to become a productive citizen,” Parker stated. “When we say ‘productive citizen,’ we’re talking about getting a job, continuing your education, or joining the military. We will also help you find a job and go to school. That’s just all becoming a productive citizen.”
There are eight core components to the program. The number one component, according to Parker, is life coping skills. As she described, “It’s anything that adults do daily whether it’s washing clothes, taking care of your family, keeping a checkbook, and managing your bank account.” She added, “We’re going to teach you all those aspects that we adults do daily.”
A similar core component is job training skills. Parker said, “We’re going to teach you how to apply for a job, how to write a resume, and how to speak at an interview.”
Among other core components of the Youth Challenge Program are community involvement projects which involves community service. “I know when you hear the words ‘community service’ all you think about is picking up trash on the side of the road,”
Parker told the JAG students. “But, we do a whole lot more than that. We are very involved in the communities that our three camps are in. We do things like Special Olympics, things at libraries, and a lot of things at sporting events.”
She continued, “You are required 40 hours of community involvement to graduate, but we take care of supplying you with the hours that you need.”
Parker touched on what a typical day is like in the program. The students wake up at 5:30 a.m. and attend school from 8:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. with lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. “After school is the extra-fun stuff,” Parker said. “We have basketball, flag football, different sports, guest speakers, field trips, and outings.”
The programs at each of the three camps conclude with a prom on the night before graduation. As Parker described, “Prom is the only time that the boys and girls do come together, and it’s a full blown prom with a DJ and food.”
She similarly described graduation as “a full blown graduation with a cap and gown. It’s an experience of a lifetime. We probably have about 3,000 people come to our graduation. It’s big, and it’s a huge event.”
Parker concluded, “We want you to come to us and make a positive change in your life. That way, when you graduate from us, you become a productive citizen and are able to live on your own, get a job, continue your education, or anything to make you productive in today’s society.”

Evangeline Today

145 Court St.
Ville Platte, LA 70586
Phone: 337-363-3939
Fax: 337-363-2841